From All Abstruse Levels And Ends, Or Not Ending Spatial Symbolism

By Gregor Jansen

The term „exit from the picture“ is used in recent art history to describe a development in the 1960s, as a result of which the artists increasingly criticized the traditional image format and developed a variety of new forms of expression. Since the late 1950s – the aftermath of the Second World War and the Cold War have continued to have a strong influence on the artists – a fundamental irritation and radical questioning of traditional social and artistic values   is emerging. Art is increasingly becoming the „answer to reality“ (Laszlo Glozer). In particular, the artists turned to questions about the materiality and spatiality of their works. Likewise, in Happening and Fluxus, but also in conceptual art, the concept of the work itself was questioned and criticized. At this problem level, the search for new myths also developed. The conventional image formats could no longer function alone as carriers of messages, it required an extension of the forms and the expression. The image carrier was tentatively damaged, destroyed or negated, thereby reaching an extension and medial border crossing. Thus, the medium itself became the bearer of messages. Although Harald Szeemann had already worked with the term of individual mythologies in the 1960s and used them for the first time in the Étienne-Martin exhibition in the Kunsthalle Bern in 1963, the designation became the buzzword for an artistic phenomenon in 1972. A milestone is the Kassel documenta 5, in which Harald Szeemann, who was responsible for the selection of artists, united a wide variety of artistic positions on the question of reality under the collective term of individual mythologies. Among the artists shown at the time were Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, James Lee Byars, Jean Le Gac and Paul Thek.

At least now, Paul Schwer and the double exhibition should arouse our attention from both ends. The fascination of an extended painting and art concept, the exit from the picture and the individual mythologies reveal direct analogies to the works and expansive installations and stagings, as they are currently shown in the exhibitions of the museums in Goch and in Ratingen. Experimenting with material, color and form, light and image, painting and photography is extremely diverse and complex. The author literally wrestles with words to describe this abundance – comparable to the impression that a baroque church ensemble offers with its »light and space orgy«, such as the pilgrimage church Birnau on Lake Constance. Similarly, in Dusseldorf Schwers teacher Erwin Heerich understood the idea of   the „harmonious unit work“ of architecture, sculpture and landscape as it can be experienced on the island of Hombroich. From heavy itself also Joseph Beuys is called as influence.

Inspired by the study of the works and catalogs as well as texts by and to Paul Schwer in the context of his two exhibitions From both ends, I have decided to venture the exit from the picture as an entrance into a free image exegesis. Numerous notes and reflections, associations and allusions flow into the following text, which to a certain extent represents a play of thought on his plastic cosmos.

Numerous modern artists such as Kasimir Malevich or Piet Mondrian have already prepared to leave the picture. Equally exciting were the light art objects of a Zdeněk Pešánek (who also used Plexiglas), the sculptural material experiments of the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner or the light-space modulator (1922-1930) by László Moholy-Nagy. Three movable elements of metal or glass arranged on a rotating disk form the heart of the light-space modulator. However, he unfolds its full effect only in a darkened room on the walls, where he produces spectacular silhouettes in interaction with colored and white light, a kind of purely abstract light painting in perpetual motion. Wassily Kandinsky also understood the „purely abstract form without representational bridging“ as „ABSOLUTE“. „Pure“ painting is then an „absolute“ painting if – independent of any object – it works with abstract forms and pictorial elements that the painter freely invents.

In the second half of the 20th century, painters of the younger generation further abstracted, reduced, and geometrized their image content. Lucio Fontana began to slash his monochrome images to illustrate a new conception of image, surface, skin and space. Further artistic attacks on images followed, and the variety of materials used increased, so now substances were used, which were previously regarded as art unworthy, such as everyday objects to garbage. Beyond the classical image format, the decoupling of message and image has been extended to the body of the artist, to objects of the lifeworld, writing or light. As a further means of art, performances and happenings began to establish themselves in art circles. The exit or the overcoming of the picture had been completed and succeeded. Let‘s go back to Kandinsky. In his writings with art-revolutionary sense of mission, he speaks of the „epoch of the great spiritual“ of humanity, in which there must come to a synthesis of the arts and a synthesis between the arts and sciences (1926): With rejection of the positivist (dead) » Materialism „in favor of the (living)“ spiritual „, the dimension of the non-material.

With this brief look at the image worlds of the 20th century, based on the sculptures, work formations and arrangements of the exhibition (s) by Paul Schwer, there are manifold narrative levels between geometrical spatial perception and abstract color fields or abstract spatial perception and constructive color fields. This impression changes permanently and partly in flowing transitions. The mix of poetic eagerness and softness described earlier, which oscillates between Poland (constructed) statics and (contingent) dynamics (Stephan Berg), is also expressed in »No Beauty without Danger«, as Johann Hartle did borrowed from the Einstürzende Neubauten. For Hartle, Paul Schwer‘s work brings together these three conceptual pairs into a spatial symbolism that promotes the spontaneity of political expression as well as the appropriation of one‘s own body. Heavy Aplomb‘s interventions are aimed at those repertoires of form, color and space developed in the 20th century for a sculpture found to be autonomous, which never existed before. But we roll the field again from the front.

Unfortunately, we still encounter „stubborn“ color swatches today, mainly in documents that already have a „moving“ past behind them. In order to avoid any further danger from them in the future, the solution path described by us is appropriate. „This passage found on the Internet has no relation to art, but only deals with errors in the computer program InDesign. It seems to me, however, attractive at this point to undertake an art evolutionary search for clues to the work of Paul Schwer, whose color field painting was given another dimension by means of glass, Plexiglas or PET. Color field painting is considered to be the first international art movement of equal importance to Europe, which developed in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s and stands for a fundamental and at the same time radical questioning of the traditional painterly image concept. It defines itself via visual illusionism and negates the conventional image function of painting.

Important representatives besides Ad Reinhardt are Barnett Newmann and Mark Rothko, but also Frank Stella and Donald Judd. By means of their „specific objects“ (Judd), the new or renewed spirit sought a world that was existing, the existing, the real, the image.

»The flatness of the painting is overcome and the step into the room is reflected in the self-confidently in the> extended image <kicking viewer, who in case of doubt, without wanting to, even becomes part of the staging« (Martin Engler). In 2008, Isabelle Malz referred to the »infinite fold [… as] the characteristic of the Baroque« in Gilles Deleuze and described numerous atmospheric spaces up to geographical anchor points such as Istanbul and Shanghai in Schwer‘s art. For all authors, dynamics is a recurring keyword, which describes continuous contrasts with light, form, material, space, movement or architecture. The viewer can experience and feel all of these elements in the room as a wonderfully balanced structure, and physically experience them because of their morbid fragility. Folds and deformations of material – which serves as a transparent image carrier of painting or a reproduced image (in Ratingen photos of a café in Istanbul) in combination with metal and fluorescent tubes, cables and racks – promise frozen, rigid formations. In these forms every viewer is able to read out other figures, animals, things in their entirety or in detailed structures. The thermoformable PET sheets seem to be stuck in their formlessly shaped abstract form as in the transformation. The original product seems to be in stark contrast to the target product. What is certain is that Schwer avoids too obvious associations with his metamorphoses. As with a melting process, enhanced by pouring, bending, drawing, punching, upsetting, general forming, or the injection blow molding process for the commercial PET mass drinking bottle, the thermoformability is a fascinating-energetic moment of sculptural-open, also time-stretched and thus futurological plastic thinking. Everything is in flux, constant change. Already from antiquity comes the formula panta rhei (ancient Greek π, German: everything flows), an attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus aphorism to characterize his teaching. Their Latin equivalent (cuncta fluunt) can be found in the 15th book of metamorphoses in the speech of Pythagoras, in which Ovid sets out the natural-philosophical foundations of his metamorphoses. Everything flows!

All these re-reflections and readings in connection with Paul Schwer‘s double exhibition From both ends in the museums Ratingen and Goch have inspired the author to a further review, but also to a journey into the future. Because the plastic sculptures seem to be partly shredded, destroyed and yet transparent, colorful, alive – a fascinating play of destruction and creation; but first we travel to the future.

We are in the year 2122. The spaceship Nostromo, an ore carrier of the company Weyland-Yutani, is after a long journey through space on the way back to Earth as a radio signal from a far away from home course lying, apparently uninhabited celestial body. MU / TH / UR (Pronounced as the English „mother“) 182, the central computer of the spaceship, independently changes the course and awakens the crew, which had been in the cold sleep until then. The signal is initially interpreted as an emergency signal. Due to a general protocol one is obliged to follow this signal and to provide assistance. The crew lands on the inhospitable planetoid (Acheron) LV-426 to investigate the cause of the radio signal. First, she discovers the wreckage of an alien spaceship and inside it the fossilized skeleton of the apparently single crew member. In further vaults finds Kane, a crew member of the Nostromo, a collection of large, egg-shaped structures. In the meantime, the third officer, Ellen Ripley, who analyzes the intercepted signal on board the lander, suspects that the signal is more of a warning signal than a distress signal. But Science Officer Ash ignores her concerns. Curious, Kane approaches one of the entities inside which something is moving. The egg opens, something shoots out, breaks through Kanes helmet visor and clasps his face. […]

At least now or because of the names Nostromo and MU / TH / UR many readers will have recognized the science fiction story of the legendary movie Alien by Ridley Scott. In theaters in 1979, the film was a sensation and a shock in terms of style and aesthetics. A Swiss artist influenced the appearance of the aliens and the cinematic equipment: HR Giger. He was responsible for the fascinating design of a biomechanical-horror-strange alien as well as for the extraterrestrial spaceship reminiscent of Hans Poelzig‘s hall structure. For this contribution, he was awarded an Oscar in 1980 in the category Best Visual Effects. When entering the exhibition of Paul Schwer in Ratingen, I immediately had the association for the film Alien. Everything wrapped itself in a materialless body shape and in light reflections, the sculptures developed an organic-fluid own life or futurological dimensions beyond our common sense. Immediately I had the pictures from the movie from the year 1979 – and the second part of James Cameron from the year 1985: Aliens – The Return (original title: Aliens) – in the midst of contemporary art installation. Was this at the time of making the movies far in the future. The spatial situation and the plastic sculptures create a magical mood full of horror elements and apocalyptic impressions, one is entranced and irritated and searches in fascination for the liquid in the solidification and the essence of the painting, which Paul Schwer shows us physically as a foreign medium.

The encounter with the stranger and the new is – in art as in life – motivation of every action. It is about expanding the formal and body language in any form, stimulating the limited capabilities of our mind and body, provoking responses that re-establish communication and help determine a social fabric and its identity (s). In the movie Alien all these elements are present and at different levels visually, symbolically, imaginarily and psychologically extremely complex implemented and interwoven. Slavoj Žižek has formulated wild theses in the application of Lacan not only on the film Alien. He describes: The undead comes to life (lamella at Lacan), and the birth of the new destroys the life protected by the mother (MU / TH / UR, the computer) aboard the spaceship. The real (or indescribable) embraces the face and penetrates into the host, but is itself unassailable, opposes for Žižek any „symbolic order“. And although it could push so freely into the realm of the imaginary, Žižek argues that it nonetheless is a kind of border image: the original image, in order to remove all images, the original image, which aims to stretch the imagination to the limits of the indelible. The thing, the notion of this borderline image in the apparent unrepeatability of the alien itself (at least as soon as it has taken on its larger, more monstrous form), remains alien in the true sense, and the camera does not seem ready or able to image the viewer to show it. The obscene excess that the alien stands for keeps it at a distance. Likewise, the symbolic is bypassed by the „alien“ itself, it takes place only twice – at the beginning in Kane as „undead“: „Alien life form. It looks like it‘s been dead a long time. Fossilised. „And in the end, Ripley sings about her“ lucky star, „as if singing a night song to the newly born being, which, after all, is exactly what it is. In Aliens, the psychologically interesting continuation of the first film, and the subsequent insignificant, only purely marketing relevant alien saga, everything is even more complicated and presented as a gripping mother-caring complex of strong women – in both films a feminist statement. We see grandiose metaphors of a dislocated world and of inhuman progress as the sole measure of things. What exactly does this have to do with Paul Schwer‘s exhibition? Where do connecting lines appear?

On the one hand there is the physician Paul Schwer, who works as a doctor in child and adolescent psychiatry, before he starts studying at the Düsseldorf Art Academy with Erwin Heerich in 1981, and on the other hand the artist. In psychiatry, truth and expression have a fascinatingly wide spectrum. Similarly, art is no longer about beauty, but about grasping time and its issues. Paul Schwer, who was born in Hornberg in the Black Forest in 1951, belongs to the Canadian James Cameron, born in Ontario in 1954, or the British director Ridley Scott, born in 1937 in South Shields, a generation that also has a mentality history on one level.

Ridley Scott‘s film Blade Runner from 1982, based on the novel Dreaming Androids of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, set in a bleak-futuristic Los Angeles. Visually, the work is so impressive that it inspired cyberpunk literature, music, and art for a generation, as it emerged directly from aliens.

Although the works of Paul Schwers are vaguely reminiscent of the dark horror of the dystopian cinematographic sci-fi scenarios, the radical questioning of technology, progress and implementation beyond technological progress seems exciting. »Beyond« means here the task of the artistically „researching“ child and adolescent psychiatrist, who occasionally lets think of the nuclear research center CERN in his installations and graphically set fluorescent tubes, and describes a clear violation of Einstein‘s theory of relativity, which in his opinion requires a new theory would.

In general, his exhibitions are reminiscent of drawings and construction sketches in a variety of ways. As he formulated himself: »In addition to the rather eschatological mood disseminating, with dissolving and the space overgrowing painting forms in Ratingen, and the hermetically apocalyptic room with the overturned corrugated iron light hut, shows a second room in Goch rather new forms of transformation a destructive act … framing, window views, reflections, amorphous sculptures and inorganic, repetitive spatial structures, etc. … «

The tilted house and the construction elements of lattice walls in the Museum Goch play with the material painting of abstract geometries and reductions of the modern age. The house stands on the edge, falls symbolically in itself, shines at the same time in pure information of the light as a prototype of the enlightenment, the intimate and in the stage of the frighteningly un-secret enlightenment as a failed idea of   world and knowledge. Because not only people, also things have action power. The French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour has inspired thinking worldwide since the 1970s with his theory that people are not acting alone but are networked with things. The heated earth rumbles tremendously and is politically transformed by the impending ecological collapse, but above all the figurative world is involved in the production. People depend on what they do with them, and everything forms a large collective with humans: ozone holes, trees, microbes, condoms, test tubes, pipelines, cars, computers, cell phones!

Even Paul Schwer could reproach us, like Latour, that we have never been modern, that we can only make things humane and describe the occupational group of technicians and scientists in field studies as an exotic tribe. Back to the exhibition. In Ratingen, the empty backlit displays in front of and in the museum literally illuminate the thesis of the Canadian media theorist Marschall McLuhan: The content of a medium is always a different medium. When someone asks for the content of the speech, McLuhan replies that it is a thought process that is nonverbal in itself. An abstract image, in his view, represents the direct manifestation of a creative thought process, as occurs in computer designs. The only exception in this series is light: „Electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as long as it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. „Unless it is a language neon sign, light has no content as a“ primeval medium „, but instead it is pure information, as it also uses heavy and asks us to explore or consciously consider the conditions.

Paul Schwer wants to „deceive“ us. Originally, the phrase meant someone was being escorted to where the light of a lamp was shielded and one was more in the dark. For Schwer, however, it means understanding the possibilities when something is no longer in the spotlight or focus. In this sense, the exploration of art, as currently observed in the two museums Ratingen and Goch, from the two ends of an infinite metamorphic flow, a deep psychological enterprise with uncertain outcome. The real appears broken in the surfaces of transformed geometries, and as tormented by thermodynamics, acid and causticism, the sculptures break in a double sense to tell us about themselves and their condition. Her dangerous beauty makes us shiver pleasantly, and one would like to find a place in her lap.

As an afterword to the long play of the foreword, I would like to close with Hartmut Böhme, the 1993 in the world of atoms and bodies in the river. Feeling and corporeality in Lucretius writes:

„So it is not about being-in-itself (which can only be thought of), but about anchoring origins in the sensory world of appreciation, as they convey elemental taste and smell. A perceptual world constructed analogously establishes an aesthetic as a form of good life. For what is good and bad is revealed by the distinctions, which are rooted in the attractive or repulsive qualities of the atmospheres, the auraterically irradiated simulacra. All the spiritual and ethical aspects of the Epicurean world are therefore based on the elementary distinctions of the senses, which are an insight into the wholesomeness of things. Thus a direct path leads from the medium of perception to the ethics of Ataraxia and Eudaimonia.“

Even Paul Schwer could reproach us, like Latour, that we have never been modern, that we can only make things humane and describe the occupational group of technicians and scientists in field studies as an exotic tribe. Back to the exhibition. In Ratingen, the empty backlit displays in front of and in the museum literally illuminate the thesis of the Canadian media theorist Marschall McLuhan: The content of a medium is always a different medium. When someone asks for the content of the speech, McLuhan replies that it is a thought process that is nonverbal in itself. An abstract image, in his view, represents the direct manifestation of a creative thought process, as occurs in computer designs. The only exception in this series is light: „Electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as long as it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. „Unless it is a language neon sign, light has no content as a“ primeval medium „, but instead it is pure information, as it also uses heavy and asks us to explore or consciously consider the conditions.